As White House Communication Director Sean Spicer censured BuzzFeed and CNN for publishing unverified claims about President-Elect Donald Trump at his press conference last Wednesday, the two men stood separated by a table displaying stacks of manila folders. Spicer’s accusations of unprofessional baselessness were in stark contrast with the corporate distance and diligence conveyed by the visibly document-filled folders. The folders’ presence invited speculation as to their purpose: this was the first press conference that the President Elect had convened in 167 days, occurring less than twenty four hours following his response, in a series of all-caps tweets, to the allegations that Spicer condemned. Assembled in view of the audience before the conference commenced, the folders remained blatantly present but unacknowledged until Trump referenced them when answering a question about his financial entanglements with Russia.

The collection of folders served foremost as a prop lending legitimacy to the performance Trump made of relinquishing personal command of his business. The symbolic gesture, of course, distracts from a persistent reality, one that the Trump administration would be delighted for the American people to conveniently disregard: that signing such papers, to turn over his business to members of his immediate family, does nothing to lawfully divest him from his businesses or his numerous conflicts of interest with the office of the Presidency.

Trump’s appeal to physical documents in feigning progress through legal action is unsurprising, even in a digital culture that has recently endured fanaticism over email security and confronted the hacking of voting machines by a foreign power. We sign forms to notarize them. Despite the emerging use of digital signatures, the material action of pen on paper still culturally signifies a transfer of authorization, access, or possession. But Trump’s affected performance renders this technological link ridiculous. The sheer number of folders on the table (and there were supposedly more) showboats the expanse and influence of Trump’s global brand empire, the same networked influence that The Donald expects us to selectively forget. The folders purport to contain this empire’s inner-workings, especially the tax data that would reveal his financial interests abroad. And viewers of the press conference, whether present press or remote viewers of its live stream, were not shown the contents of the folders. These are data that we, according to him, no longer care about, but which he dangles in front of us.

But a closer inspection of the folders reveals their “lack of realism”: while carefully splayed, their pristineness and lack of tagging suggest they were taken straight from a supply closet and filled with reams of blank A4 paper. Their uncanny uniformity, combined with the refusal of Trump’s administration to let reporters handle them, has kindled speculation that the folders in fact contained nothing at all. They are left to represent potential data for holding, knowing, and analyzing. In her book Paper Knowledge, New York University media historian Lisa Gitelman calls this function of documents their “know-show” function. For Gitelman, it is this dual-function of the document that it uses to be persuasive: documents at once illuminate viewers with facts and retain their status as documents because they illuminate. It is, in her words, “the kind of knowing that is all wrapped up with showing, and showing wrapped with knowing.” Gitelman further complicates the interchange with a pun: documents also do the work of “no-show” because they are filed away, archived to be called upon at some later date for a particular situation. In this way, documents retain their persuasive function without needing to be opened. “Both know show and no show,” she writes, “depend on an implied self-evidence that is intrinsically rhetorical.” The document speaks for itself.

If Trump’s showing-but-not-showing of his divestment forms takes Gitelman’s work to its absurd limit, his lawyer Michael Cohen’s recent Tweet of his passport’s front cover is even more ludicrous: the picture of the closed passport somehow proves that Cohen could not have possibly been in Prague in August to collude with Russian leadership, as alleged by the unverified intelligence. (Some have noted that looking inside would not be fruitful anyway, since it was unlikely to have been stamped.) While our inability to even choose to look inside is as much a consequence of how our physical vantage to the document limits our access to it as it is of the Trump administration’s active efforts to conceal, our distance is not accidental, nor are their efforts to traverse authentic.

Trump’s manila folder production highlights that access to truth about Trump is a media issue, in all senses of the word. When the press and the people do not have access to the documents themselves, we cannot determine what was or wasn’t in them. Trump, or those close to him, know that. They have done their best to make the press’s access to question him a hot commodity. They would prefer that the American people accept the delusion that he offers supposedly unmediated access through his Tweets. This duplicity transcends, even, planted cheering audience members or refusing to take a journalists’ questions. We must not stop demanding plans, demanding figures, demanding documents and documentation. Further, we must take care to distinguish the showmanship of publicity from bona-fide transparency. We should have our doubts on file.